Thursday, December 23, 2010

CATCHING UP BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Somehow it has been two whole months since I posted last. Not sure how time slips away so quickly. Here at home, we have been enjoying the Christmas season in small ways. Last year at Christmas time, I started these stockings. My dear mother finished them for me yesterday. I'm really happy with how they turned out. 
Last year, I didn't do much in the way of homemade gifts, still being in a new baby fog. This year, it's simply bags of granola, tied with kitchen twine, by the door for anyone that stops by.  It isn't much, but it is pleasureful to give, and hopefully to receive.

In truth, I have been struggling to find that joy that I have been so earnest about. Reading back over that post, I wonder if I have grown at all over the past year. I still feel the same way as I did then, much of the time.
A lot of it is expectations.
When I snuggle up with my children in front of the fire, hot chocolate in hand, ready to read Christmas stories before nap time, I expect them to just happily curl up next to me, and listen to the story. The reality is more likely spilled chocolate, whining because they can't see a page, or "so and so is touching me", or "so and so got to sit next to you last time, it's my turn", or "I don't want to read a story, I want to play with my friends", etc.

Over the last few days, I have been trying to adjust my expectations, again. The to-do list, already simple, is pared down further. I delete Facebook from my phone, again. Making conscious decisions to be focused on the PEOPLE not the experience I want to create. It isn't easy for me, doesn't come naturally. But I know it's important, so I keep trying.
And I mess up, over and over again.
My kids fight and whine and I get angry, raise my voice, eventually apologize.
Repeat.
It's real and it's messy and it's exactly why I need Jesus. And it's what we are celebrating this season.
Over and over again, my mantra: "My ministry is where my feet are. I am choosing Joy."

I hope that your holidays are joyful and filled with hope, in the midst of the messiness!

Monday, October 25, 2010

MY LITTLE MEN


Sometimes,
I look at these four little boys of mine,
sitting around the dinner table,
or jumping on the furniture,
or in the shower with shampoo mohawks.

And I realize that, someday,
these little boys will be:
fathers
husbands
employees
neighbors

I am overwhelmed.
By the task,
and by my love for them.

I remind myself (again) to
pray more
and get on Facebook less.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

OCTOBER BUSYNESS

October is the busiest month of the year for our family, and though I crave simplicity, it is also my favorite.

Housework and schoolwork have been pared back for the month to just the essential (toilets, laundry, dishes, math, and reading). In their place, we have been enjoying: the parade and fair



A trip to visit family and several friends in NYC, as well as several other trips coming up soon.


My brother, finally back from Iraq, and a proposal to his love!


Running new paths, as I continue to train for my first marathon.


Enjoying delicious food (on my must-make list for fall:


A few more things we are loving right now:

-New neighbors, right across the street, with boys the same ages as ours, that also homeschool! We are thrilled, and our children are outside together, from dawn to dusk. Such a gift.

-Screen doors. When I have to be inside, I am so thankful to let the outside in, with the doors flung open. 

-Woodchuck Hard Cider. Autumn in a bottle.

-Sweater weather.

-The Farmer's market.

-Seasonal foods: roasted vegetables, soups, loaves of fresh bread, cider, apples, granola, pecans...

-Getting from here to there via foot or bike, or at least riding with the windows down.

-Learning through play. Right now my boys are in to writing secret notes in Egyptian Hieroglyphics and playing bingo (my 3 year old has learned to identify so many birds this way!).


-Speaking of learning, my boys (and all the other children in the neighborhood), were thrilled when the fire department showed up at our house (I burned a pot of beans...again...). The firemen were so, so nice, showing the children their gear, talking to them about fire safety, posing for pictures. Aside from feeling horribly guilty that I had wasted these very nice mens' time, it was a fun "field trip" for the boys! And we all got a good laugh when the fireman who was filling out the report asked "ma'am, are you running a day care?" When I looked confused, and said "No, why do you ask?" He said, "there are...just...so many...BOYS!!" haha :)



What are you loving this season?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

On a little late-night mommy guilt


I am from the school of thought that a little dirt never hurt anyone. 

My kids get several baths a week...but the term "bath" is used loosely. A run through the sprinkler might qualify.
 
At any rate, they are usually semi-presentable, and they do get their ears cleaned and their teeth brushed regularly but no one is going to accuse me of being fanatical about children's hygiene. 

Which is why it is somewhat unusual, that 10 minutes (quiet, beautiful, blissful minutes) after the boys' had gone to bed, that I hurried upstairs, got them out of bed, and in to the shower. 

Their feet were just a little too dirty for comfort.

Getting out of bed to play in the shower for 30 minutes was full-out awesome to the boys.

And I was the hero.

Funny how my mommy guilt can translate so differently to them.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shoes, simplified


Yesterday, I pulled out the boy's box of shoes from the attic. 
I had them try on their shoes from summer, then switch out the pairs that were too small with large sizes from the box. 

What is it about summer that makes children grow so quickly? 
Each of my boys had grown at least 2 shoe sizes.

Each of our boys have 4 pairs of shoes as they transition from summer to fall.

1 pair of flip flops or crocs
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 pair of boots
1 pair of cleats

When it is truly fall, the flip flops will go into the shoe box in the attic. 
I love being able to shop for the next season from our attic. 
Shopping is one of my least favorite ways to spend time, 
and I am thankful for any chance to avoid it. 

The boys shoes, as well as the most frequently worn pairs of Matt's and mine,
reside in a large wire basket in a closet off of the kitchen. 
Having a single place near the entrance to drop shoes has made life much simpler. 

For fall, I will transition out of Chaco's, and will rotate primarily between 3 pairs of shoes

1 pair of Simple Shoes
1 pair of brown knee boots
1 pair of either Converse or Kigo's

In the next week or so, I am planning to go through the bins of clothes in the attic and pull together the boys' wardrobes for fall. I am guessing that I will need to purchase at least a few things, since boys are notorious for blowing out the knees of their pants (as it is now, I have a stack of 5 pairs in the laundry room, awaiting knee patches).

If you could only have one pair of shoes to wear, which would they be? 
I would have a tough time choosing between my Chaco's and Simple Shoes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

For the love of running


I laced my running shoes at twilight, instead of the usual break of dawn.
I left my running watch at home, for the first time in months.
Instead of staring at my running stats, I delighted in how pretty the road is to our house.



And for the first time in ages, I remembered why I had started running in the first place.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Timer and 15 Minutes

This afternoon, I called my mom. When she answered, I started laughing hysterically but it was because I felt like crying.
I was totally overwhelmed.
The house was a bomb, the kids were wild and in need of naps, and I just stood in the kitchen, paralyzed into inactivity.
She was about to go out of town, and was feeling overwhelmed too with packing and the to-do list.
We reminded each other that we didn't need to do everything, we just needed to do the next thing.
We got off the phone, and set our timers for 15 minutes.

Setting my timer for 15 minutes and racing the clock is such a helpful exercise for me. It really brings me in to focus and gives me a jolt of energy. I am always amazed at how much I can accomplish in 15 minutes.
For example, this was my kitchen this afternoon:

This was my kitchen, after working for 15 minutes.

                      
It wasn't perfect, but it was better.  As flylady says "even housework done incorrectly (or incomplete) still blesses your family!"

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Few of MY FAVORITE THINGS, 3

                                         An organized pantry is a beautiful thing.


Mason jars are practical, timeless, and lovely.



Monday, August 16, 2010

Good Food, Small Budget, post 1B

A few more words on paring down the food budget...

Pay with cash. When I want to insure that I don't go over the budget I set, I take the money allotted for groceries out of the bank, and then leave my check card at home. This gives me no choice but to make careful, calculated purchases. And, it becomes a game to see how much I can buy with the money at hand.

When you think you can't go another day without going to the store, go one more day. Some of my most creative meals have come from the times when I think "we have nothing in the house to eat". This week is a great example of that.
Last Sunday night, I thought that I HAD to go to the store on Monday. We only had 3 eggs in the house, no sandwich bread, almost no cheese, and were low on fruit.
Additionally, I was having friends over for various meals several times during the week. I decided to make myself wait until Wednesday to go to the store, and to get creative with what was already in the pantry and fridge/freezer. Wednesday came and I decided I could wait a few more days. Now it is Sunday afternoon, and I still haven't been to the grocery store this week. I spent $31 at the health food store (kefir, bulk grains and nuts, butternut squash ravioli, toothpaste), and $2.50 at the farmer's market (mung bean sprouts). I now have 1 egg, still no sandwich bread, cheese, or fresh fruit (except for the pears that a friend brought over from their tree).
Last night, I was trying to think of a dish to make for our fellowship meal at church today. I kept thinking that I was going to HAVE to run to the store to make anything decent. I looked through the freezer and pantry several different times, waiting for inspiration to strike. In the end, I made a chow mein-like dish and some stewed pears.

Chow Mein (ish)
1 box of whole wheat spaghetti ($0.50, purchased on sale)
1 squash (free*)
1bell pepper (free*)
1 onion (free*)
mushrooms (free*)
mung bean sprouts (1/2 package, $1.25)
2 carrots ($0.25)
green beans (free*)
garlic ($0.25)

*These were all gifts from friends' gardens, with the exception of the mushrooms, which I received as a sample from a food show.
I sauteed all the vegetables (minus the mushrooms and sprouts) in a hot skillet with a little oil, just until they were warm but still crispy. After the spaghetti was cooked, and drained, I added it to the skillet of vegetables, along with the mushrooms and sprouts.

In a measuring cup, I whisked together:
1 T honey ($0.10)
2 T soy sauce ($0.10)
1 T worchestershire sauce ($0.05)
2 T garlic infused oil (free, gift)

I poured this over the mixture in the skillet, tossed, and salted to taste.
It was sooooo good and cost $2.50 to make (it easily served 6). I could have made it for much cheaper, if I had sprouted the beans myself.

In the words of Plato "Necessity is the motherhood of invention!"
Not only did I save a lot of money by staying out of the store, but I also have a yummy new dish to add to the rotation.

What are your best "make do with what you have recipes"? Do you have a dish you absolutely love, that you came up with when your pantry was bare?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good Food, Small Budget, post 1

This summer, and the last several summers, I have given myself a very meager grocery budget. In years past, the budget was $50 a week. This year, I raised the stakes, and made the budget $40 a week for 6 people (hubby and myself + 4 boys, ages 7-1). I maintained this budget for 9 weeks over the summer.

Several friends have asked me for the nuts and bolts of how I did this, so I thought I would spend a few posts outlining how I made this work for our family.

I am happy to share what worked for us, as long as it is clear that I in no way consider myself some kind of expert, nor a mama that has it all figured out. I am not saying that you should do as I do. Nor do I believe that I am doing anything radical or new...google would turn up blog after blog and article after article, covering everything I am going to say here. However, sometimes hearing (reading) from someone who is like you, or that you can relate to, can be helpful. So, maybe some of my friends who are reading this will find it useful.

First, I would say that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a $40 a week budget for our family year-round. I choose to significantly reduce my budget in the summer, b/c we live in an agrarian area of the country, where fresh, local fruits and vegetables are available VERY inexpensively most of the year but especially in the summer. In fact, during this 9 week period, I would say that I received 90% of our produce for free from friends and families whose gardens were producing more than they could use.
During the rest of the year, my weekly grocery spending hovers in the $75-90 range.

Also, another thing that made it possible to stick to our $40 a week budget is that no one in my family has any food related allergies, or any illnesses that require dietary restrictions. My children are all generally good eaters (though they could be better), and I enjoy preparing food for my family and friends. All those factors worked in my favor for keeping our budget low.

For the rest of this post, I am going to talk about how I have worked to trim our food budget DOWN, over the last few years. My current low budget is the cumulative result of small, progressive changes to the way I shopped and prepared food.

Food is a VERY important part of my life...besides the need of food-as-sustenance, I really love to read about, think about, shop for, prepare and serve food to my family.

While my food budget it small, I place a high value on purchasing foods that are local, seasonal, healthy, and fresh.
My focus is to create as little waste as possible in my food purchases.
This is fleshed out in bringing my own reusable bags, going without produce bags whenever possible, buying foods with as little packaging as I can find, and shopping from locally owned, small businesses.

Sometimes this means paying more for some groceries than I would at a big-box store. Supporting small business owners is an important value to me, and so often I am willing to pay more for certain groceries, if I have to, in order to do that. None of these values were compromised while only spending $40 on groceries.

Here is a list of some of the ways I reduced my grocery spending:

  • I do not purchase disposable diapers, paper napkins, paper towels, zip lock bags, plastic wrap, etc. Instead, I use cloth diapers, cloth napkins and towels, tin foil (which I wash and reuse, then recycle), and rewash/reuse zip lock bags from several years ago. I do purchase toilet paper and wet wipes.
  • I do not buy meat. 90% of our meals at home are vegetarian. Occasionally, I will cook seafood, or use deer meat (which my husband killed, and was therefore free). Sometimes my husband will grill meat. When we eat meat, he purchases it through his job (he sells food to restaurants), and it was not figured in to my $40 a week budget.
  • I don't buy much dairy. If I buy yogurt, I buy a large container of plain yogurt, not the individual cartons. If I buy milk, I purchase pasteurized, non homogenized milk from a local dairy for $4.50 a gallon. I buy about 2 gallons a month. The rest of the time, we use almond milk. We do use a fair amount of butter and cheese.
  • I buy seasonal produce. That means that I buy asparagus and strawberries in April, apples and sweet potatoes in October, watermelon and sweet corn in July. Not only does it taste indescribably better, it is also much, much cheaper. Probably about 80% of the produce in our house is local and in season. Other things, such as bananas and mangoes, that will never be in season where we live, I purchase sometimes.
  • I make my own laundry detergent.
  • I buy very, very little prepackaged foods. Occasionally, I will buy a box of crackers or cereal. It is rare that I buy anything in a can or box. I really focus on buying INGREDIENTS. 
  • When something is in season, I buy a lot and either can or freeze it for later. During the summer, I fill my pantry and freezer with homemade pasta sauce, whole canned tomatoes, cream corn, green beans, blueberries, strawberries, etc. This keeps my grocery bill much lower the rest of the year, and gives us food to use that is delicious, inexpensive, and local. I didn't do much canning this year, but I did freeze a lot.
  • I shop the sales cycle. When olive oil goes on sale (Buy 1, Get 1 free), I look for a coupon online, and buy enough to last 6-8 weeks, when it will go on sale again. A bottle of extra virgin olive oil that is normally $7, would then be $3.50 when it is B1G1, plus a $1 off coupon, brings it down to $2.50, for a savings of $4.50. I usually buy 3-4 at a time, for a savings of up to $18.
  • I use a few coupons, maybe 4-5 a week, for items that we use a lot of, such as toilet paper, almonds, almond milk, and olive oil. I save them until I can pair them with a sale, for maximum savings. 
  • I buy the best ingredients I can afford. Pure maple syrup, local free range eggs, non homogenized milk from a local dairy, blocks of parmesan cheese, sourdough bread from the bakery in town, etc. Using good quality ingredients saves me money in 2 ways. First, I am more judicious with it, because I don't want to waste it and second, it is more flavorful, and a small amount can go a long way to flavoring a dish. 
  • Because my husband is in the food-sales industry, every now and then, he brings home samples. It doesn't happen that often but for the sake of full disclosure, I will mention it :)
  • Sometimes, I purchase foods in bulk from my husband. This isn't something I rely on regularly, but perhaps once every 2 months or so, I will order a big box of organic spinach, or several logs of goat cheese, which saves money.
  • My mom supplies me with fresh eggs from her chickens, blueberries from their bushes, and green beans that she cans for me that my grandparents grew. I know, I am a lucky girl. I am so, so grateful for those food gifts! 
What ways do you save money on your groceries? What is one of your biggest food-related expenses? For me, it is dried cranberries. Random, I know, but they are pricey ($4 for a small bag!) and 2 of my boys absolutely LOVE them. Also, my dark chocolate with sea salt obsession can be an expensive indulgence...especially when the boys catch me and I have to share! :)

In the next posts, I am going to talk about what I do spend my money on, and then, what a week of eating looks like around our house. 

If you want to look back, here is a post from a few years ago on the same topic:

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Short Season


While we sat there watching them play, we talked about the years to come, when we won't be bringing floaties and swim diapers, when we won't need babysitters or be confined by nap times. 

We know that when we get there, we will be remembering these days wistfully.

Sometimes, looking forward helps us appreciate the here and now.




Thursday, July 08, 2010

Hmmm...I am not sure how I managed to skip blogging the entire month of June, but here we are.
These summer days are full, sometimes in the best way.
Yesterday, a bike ride to the library.


And Uno with an indian.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS, 2

Soaking up the fresh air and sunshine with my boys on a quilt. When I am feeling overwhelmed or frazzled, a few minutes in the sunshine does wonders for morale.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS, 1

When the baby stops nursing to look up at me and smile. Those are some rich moments in motherhood.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

30 by 30

(this picture has nothing to do with the post below. I just like taking pictures of my dishes)

30 things I would like to do before I turn 30, next April.

30. Send my entire ironing pile to the dry cleaners, just once. And don't feel guilty about it. 8.15.10
29. Have a date night with each of my children.
28. Take a cooking class.
27. Have a family picture taken. 10.10
26. Volunteer with my children at a local charity.
25. Write a letter to each of my boys, for them to read when they are older.
24. Pay for the meal for the car behind us in a drive thru. 10.10
23. Write a letter to someone, expressing admiration for qualities I appreciate in them. Be specific.
21. Go canoeing. 5.29.10
20. Reach my ideal weight (20 pounds to go!).
19. Take a road trip with no particular destination in mind.
18. Take a hot yoga class.
17. Buy all new underwear.
16. Visit a nursing home with my children. 5.14.10
15. Don't say anything negative for an entire day. 5.23.10 
14. Get my piano tuned. And play it.
13. Give away a favorite possession.
12. Write a will.
11. Run a 5K in under 25 minutes (8 minute mile).
10. Add some really great playlists to my ipod. 
9. Do flylady consistently for at least a month.
8. Read a book aloud to the boys. Maybe Tom Sawyer?
7. Buy a harmonica. Sit on my back porch and play it.
6. Unplug from TV and internet for a day (or week?).
5. Make a blog book.
4. Organize a pick up game of soccer.
3. Read several books of the Bible.
2. Write a poem to Matt.
1. Run a marathon (Charleston Marathon, Jan. 2011). 1.15.11

What goals, silly or serious, are you working towards?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

ALMOND-QUINOA MUFFINS


Yesterday, Wilder couldn't get enough of the oatmeal cookies my mom made.

Today, he is loving the almond-quinoa muffins I made for lunch. I am so happy when I stumble across a super-healthy recipe that I feel really good about feeding my family and that they absolutely love. These muffins are that kind of recipe. 

These muffins, alongside a green smoothie, or some applesauce, make a great meal. And since my younger three boys completely finished off the dozen I made for lunch, I am going to make a double batch this afternoon for the freezer.

I have adapted it from the original, which is from the veganomicon cookbook, via No Meat Athlete.

Vegan Almond-Quinoa Muffins


  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

  • 1 T. ground flaxseeds

  • 1/8 cup oil

  • 1/8 cup unsweetened applesauce (next time, I will probably omit the oil entirely and just use 1/4 applesauce)

  • 1/4 maple syrup (or honey or agave)

  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract

  • 1 cup plain, unbleached flour

  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour

  • 1/4 cup almond meal (I make almond meal from the leftover almond pulp when I make almond milk)

  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder

  • 1/2 t. baking soda

  • 1/2 t. sea or kosher salt

  • 1/2 t. cinnamon

  • 1/4 t. ginger

  • 1/4 t. cloves

  • 1 1/4 cups cooked quinoa

  • 1/2 cup chopped golden raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin. 
Mix first six ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients except quinoa and raisins. Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients until just incorporated. Fold in cooked quinoa and chopped raisins. Spoon in to muffin tins and cook for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into muffin comes out clean. Makes 12 muffins. 
WW points: 3



Monday, May 10, 2010

TIME FOR PLAY


Today, I was sad.
Sad that my children are growing up oh-so-fast.
Sad that I so often put priority on the to-do list, not on relationships.

Laundry comes before reading 
Dishes are more important than playing a game
Vacuuming and dusting and cleaning toilets and let's be real, checking Facebook, 
come before riding bikes and catching lizards. 

That's not what I would say, of course. If you asked me, I would tell you that building relationships with my family is the priority. But that's not what my life looks like, too much of the time.

And it really stinks because I already know that someday, I am going to look back, and I am going to really really wish that I had picked my boys more and accomplishing less. 

So today, I put down the broom, picked up the baby, and headed outside. We jumped on the trampoline and we were happy. If you haven't jumped on a trampoline recently, I highly recommend it. I felt so free and youthful and like I was really living my best life, you know? 
And my boys were so excited that I was playing with them. After thirty minutes, they headed for naps, and I returned to my work but it felt different. I think the subliminal resentment, theirs and mine, had receded. 

The lesson is so simple, but I must learn it over and over and over again.  

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

MOTHERHOOD

I listed several items on Freecycle over the week-end. As a result, there were a number of people at my house throughout the day yesterday, picking up the items I had to give away.

It was only after several people had come and gone that I realized that one of my children was completely naked, except for his red cape.


A stranger pointed out the caped crusader, who was relieving himself on the driveway.


Motherhood is nothing if not humbling


 In other thoughts on mama life, I loved this NieNie video (click on the videos to see them full screen).


While I do not subscribe to the beliefs of the Mormon faith, I think her words here are applicable to anyone and her life is beautiful.





And while you are at it, watch this one too. I have 
watched it over and over and over again. 




Being a Mama is hard as heck, but man, 
what a privilege.

Monday, April 19, 2010

HAPPY MONDAY

It's 8:53 AM on a Monday morning.

My husband just left to take our oldest to school, thirty minutes late.

That's because, between 7 AM and now,

our four year old wet our bed and me,

the cat had explosive diarrhea on the living room wall,

and our oldest dropped a jar of pickle juice all over the kitchen.

So, I am sitting here in a camo t-shirt of my husband's and satiny pajama pants with a hole in the crotch, because it was the first thing I could find when I got peed on this morning.

Motherhood is a lot of things, but it isn't glamorous.

So, now I am regrouping and making a plan (since going back to bed and starting this day over isn't an option).

First, get out of this baggy shirt and worn pajamas. Those aren't doing anything positive for morale.

Second, I am going to bring order to this chaos by doing a series of 15 minute room rescues, with the kitchen and master bedroom being priorities. When those two rooms are in order, the rest of the house seems to follow suit.

Third, while implementing stages one and two, I will be looking for joy in it all.

Happy Monday to you!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

WINNER!!!


Wow, where did this week go?! I was out of town all last week, which subsequently, has thrown this week into a tailspin. At any rate, please forgive me for being so late in announcing the winner for the book give away. I really need to work on being more timely.

The winner of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is Eileen!! Eileen, please email me your contact info, and congratulations!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

GIVE AWAY: ARTISAN BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY!


Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois had been on my wish list for quite a while. I had heard nothing but rave reviews from everyone that had baked from it. So I was THRILLED when I won my very own copy from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship. Ever since, I have been cranking out 5-6 loaves a week of beautiful, delicious loaves of bread.


I have always wanted to make bread on a regular basis and love the process of bread baking. I love to knead it and I love the yeasty smell that fills the house. However, it just seemed too time consuming and daunting to make it every week.  We have a great bakery in town and I have always happily given them my patronage. But it could get expensive. And now that I have this book, and see how simple bread making can really be, I feel a little silly that it took me so long to do it!! 

Today, for Easter lunch, I was in charge of bringing the bread. I made four loaves this morning, in between feeding the kids breakfast and getting the family ready for church. The bread received rave reviews from everyone. My brother, who works at the bakery in town, said that my bread was better than that at the bakery! My sweet husband said that I should open my own bakery! And my children said that my bread is the best they have ever had! 

I don't own many cookbooks and of the ones I do own, I only consult 1-2 regularly. This is a book that is in heavy rotation. It is absolutely brilliant. If you are interested in making bread for your friends and family, without a big commitment of time, you need this book! And, the publishers of this cookbook have generously agreed to donate a copy to one of my readers!! 

You may enter to win up to three times by:
1. Leaving a comment.
2. Tweet or Facebook about the give away.
3. Share this give away on your blog, linking back to this post.

Please leave a separate comment for each entry. Entries will be accepted until 11:59 pm, est, on Saturday, April 10th and I will post the winner (selected from a random generator) on the following Monday. Contest is open to residents of US and Canada. If you don't win, I highly recommend buying this book. It won't take long to pay for itself and the satisfaction that comes from making delicious bread is well worth the money!

And check out the website, Artisan Bread in Five, for great recipes and tips!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A CHILD'S DAILY UNIFORMA few posts ago, I shared the uniform concept that I follow.

In the last few months, I have taken time to rethink and rework my children's clothing as well. I began in the laundry room, where I often felt like I lived. I didn't mind the washing and folding but putting the clothes away was something I dreaded as I lugged full laundry baskets up a flight of stairs to cram the freshly folded clothes into already full drawers. I knew there was a way to simplify my laundry routine.

The first step was to stack my front loading washer and dryer. This freed up space in my small laundry room for a clothes chest. I haven't yet found a well made, inexpensive chest of drawers, so in the meantime, I am making do with small plastic stacking drawers that were being used for various organization in the attic and closets. I had four children's clothes + cloth diapers to fit in to six small drawers.

The cloth diapers take up one drawer. Each of the children have one drawer, and the older two boys share the remaining drawer for underwear/socks/pajamas. Once I find a chest of drawers, I will have quite a bit more room, since the plastic drawers are a lot smaller than dresser drawers.

I then sorted out each child's clothes. For the most part, my boys wear solid colored fitted tees with either jeans, navy shorts, or khaki pants. I did keep a few striped tees but mostly solid tops and bottoms mean that everything matches, the children can easily dress themselves, and I like the classic, simple look. Each child has 2-3 pairs of pants, 2-3 pairs of shorts, 4-5 shirts, a handful of socks and underwear, and 2 pairs of pajamas. This excludes the few dressier shirts the boys wear to church, that hang in their closet.
The baby has an assortment of mix and match onesies, pants, and button down sweaters in white, tan, and baby blue.

In the attic, I have four rubbermaid storage containers of clothes for ages 0-2t, 2t-4, 4-6, and 6+. If I have more clothes than I can fit in the bins, I pare down and give some away or consign them. I intentionally keep my storage bins and clothes drawers small so I can't mindlessly add to what I have previously determined is adequate.

There are several factors that make dressing my children pretty simple.
-I have all boys. It would be more challenging if I had to store clothes for boys and girls (and would probably want a lot more for a little girl!).

-I am very laid back about my children's clothing. While I want them to be dressed in a simple way that really highlights the child (rather than a cartoon or advertisement on the shirt), I also don't really care about them being dressed up. They're boys! I expect them to trash their clothes, always have dirt under their fingernails, and holes in the knees of their pants.

In the summer, the boys' wardrobes are pared down even further. There is one drawer upstairs that holds nothing but swim trunks. That drawer will get traded out for clothes in the laundry room later this month. There are 13-14 pairs of swim trunks (all hand me downs from generous friends), and the boys can wear most of them interchangeably (they just are baggier on the smaller kids). Truly, they live out of swim trunks in the summer. We spend most of every day in the summer at the local water park (we buy a family season pass), the back yard sprinkler, or the beach. If we need to go somewhere, they can throw on one of their solid colored tees. On Sunday, they exchange the swim trunks for nicer shorts. Laundry is such a breeze in the summer!

I know as my children get older, laundry will probably be more complicated...the clothes will be bigger and the opinions will be stronger! For now though, this system is working great for us!
WORKING OUTSIDEThe baby plays happily in his Peapod, the other boys sword fight with sticks, argue, and occasionally help as I work to bring order to our little piece of terra firma.
Fifteen minutes a day is all I am aiming for. I am amazed at how much I can accomplish in that small amount of time.
And how happy I feel from working in the fresh air.

Monday, March 22, 2010

HAPPY MONDAYRestoring order is what I do on this (and every) Monday morning...so my family can be a little more Happy at Home. Having only what I know to be useful and believe to be beautiful is the goal.

Happy Monday to you!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A SEASONAL UNIFORMMy clothing style is pretty simple. I like to wear classic pieces that can mix and match and are appropriate for a variety of activities.

I like to personalize the classic pieces with retro-meets-earthy accessories.

My ideal style is a sort of j.crew meets anthropologie meets sundance.

Also, I want my clothes to move easily from housecleaning to errand running to baseball practice to bible study. I don't want to have to think about what to wear in the morning and I don't want to have to iron before I get dressed.

This is the uniform concept: to have a small wardrobe made up of versatile pieces that you can mix and match to easily put together outfits for every day of the week. To take the time and guess work out of getting dressed. This concept saves time, energy, money, and space.

Here is what I have planned for my summer uniform:
-bathing suit
-1 pair of shorts (dark brown)
-1 pair of running shorts
-2 knee length, cotton skirts (brown, white)
-2 sundresses (one doubling as a beach cover-up)
-2-3 fitted t-shirts, solid colors
-2 dressier shirts (linen or cotton)
-1 pair of linen pants
-1 pair of chacos
-1 pair of simple shoes
-1 pair of ballet flats
-1 pair of running shoes

Out of this list, the only items I don't already own are a sundress and a couple of t-shirts like this or this.

Once I have my basics, I can change my look for the day based on what items I wear together, and what accessories I pair with the outfit.

The uniform concept of dressing supports my main objective of living a simple life that focuses on relationships more than things (not to say that you can not have a simple life if you don't follow this method. I am just sharing what works for me)

In another post, I will share how I am doing this with my children's clothes as well.

Maybe you use the uniform concept too? Or have another system that works well for you?

Monday, March 01, 2010

THOUGHTS ON LIVING WITH LESS "I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family, and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give" -Thomas Jefferson

I think a lot about minimalism and possessions and my relationship with the things I own.
I was reading my friend Sara's travel blog last night, and had the urge to follow suit, selling most of what we owned for a life of RV'ing on the open road. But as I considered further, and what that would really look like (or at least, what I imagine that it would look like), I acknowledged that's not a lifestyle I really want. I like having a house and firm roots in a community. The part that really appeals to me is the life that I could have without the encumbrances of THINGS. When I consider the amount of time that goes into maintaining the things we own, it just seems like a waste. A waste of time, of resources, of mental and physical energy.

What good things am I giving up because of the time I spend maintaining my stuff?

I have been going through what my typical day looks like and how much of it is spent on taking care of our things and how much of it is spent engaging with the people around me in a meaningful way. And while I don't think my time is grossly out of proportion in those areas, I just wonder how much time is spent caring for things that don't add a lot of meaning to my family. Of course, there isn't a clear-cut answer.
Basically, I want

my footprint here to be small

to be content with less

to own good things but few things

to be focused on the people in my life, not the things I own

to only own things that enhance our life, not take away from it

to leave enough margin in our finances that we are able to help others when a need arises

to focus more on experiences than acquisitions

The more I pare down, the more freedom I feel. I don't attach a lot of sentiment to the things i own. I am happy to release much of my material excess (though I am extremely attached to my physical house). But still, stuff creeps in. I feel like I am constantly editing. It can be challenging when other family members don't share the vision. I want to be respectful of their feelings. I read a good article on being a minimalist when your partner isn't.

Minimalism looks different to each person. What might be stark and austere to one person might be perfect to another. For me, books don't feel like clutter. I like being well stocked in food and household supplies. Areas that I want to be pretty pared down in are
clothing
kitchen appliances and equipment
toys
knick knacks/framed pictures
magazines
make up
shoes

Those are the things that I prefer to keep a relatively modest amount of to feel balanced and in dominion of my home. I am curious to hear your thoughts on this topic and how you find balance in this area.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SIMPLE FOOD, SIMPLE MEALSOccasionally, I get in a food rut. Nothing sounds that good, I can't think of anything to cook, I make the same thing over and over, etc. I usually start to feel that way around the end of January. I am tired of root veggies, rice, beans, etc. I am ready for the fresh fruits and vegetables of spring and summer. I am uninspired. When I feel that way, I know a simple, sure-fire way to get my kitchen creativity going is to head to my local bakery and produce stand. Conversations with the owners, buying foods that I am not very familiar with, and just being around the fresh, local foods always gets me excited to be in the kitchen again.
I also love to eat really simply. I gravitate towards foods that require little more seasoning than olive oil, sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, maybe a little squeeze of lemon or a sprig of rosemary. If it can be made in a cast iron skillet and go straight from oven to table, all the better. Today for lunch, a baked sweet potato with butter and cinnamon, a bed of spinach with apples, pecans, and a drizzle of olive oil, and a wedge of that lovely artichoke and onion focaccia, pictured above, from the bakery. Easy, inexpensive, delicious. Some other foods that have been coming out of my kitchen the past few days...

-Smitten Kitchen's Chewy Granola Bars. I substituted honey for the corn syrup and next time will probably drastically reduce or eliminate the sugar...it was a little too sweet for me but my husband and kids LOVED them. It was fun to realize (via facebook) that Aimee and I were making these at the same time yesterday. Love friends with similar food ideas!

-Roasted Brussel Sprouts. I had never had a brussel sprout in my life, until my friend Lis made a big platter of them last week. Drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with sea salt, they were almost like candy and incredibly delicious. I went to the store straightway.

-Creme Brulee is my husband's favorite dessert, but I had never made it before, until last night. With only four ingredients (vanilla bean, heavy cream, egg yolks, and a little sugar) it was a pleasure to make, and easy (though time consuming).

-Overnight french toast. Big crusty pieces of french bread snuggled up together in my biggest cast iron skillet, covered in a mixture of eggs, whole milk, and a little sugar. The tops were sprinkled with a little grating of nutmeg and cinnamon. Five minutes of time spent putting it together the night before, and into the oven this morning. A sprinkling of powdered sugar and a drizzle of pure maple syrup over the top made it delicious. It would have been really yummy with a side of stewed apples too.


And some of my friend's are cooking up...

-Raw Foods

-Simple Breakfasts

-Chocolate Avocado Pudding

-Romantic Dinner

-Roasted Beets

What are you cooking in February? Are you still enjoying winter meals or are you counting down the days until fresh fruits and vegetables come in to season?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

CHOCOLATEI was never much of a chocolate lover until about six months ago, when Wilder was born. I don't know what happened then, but ever since, I have been a chocolate fanatic. This last month or so, my chocolate obsession was taken to new heights when I discovered this chocolate bar. Whoever first had the idea to put dark chocolate and sea salt together was a food genius. The love of that chocolate bar led to trying this Giada recipe (minus the cinnamon). It had to be made twice, once with dark chocolate and once with semi sweet (research, of course). So, my friend, Ellen came over and we made it together, and then made ourselves sick on it while watching (what else?) Chocolat. Ah, that movie never gets old.
Today, I made a chocolate panini, which I sprinkled with sea salt. It wasn't bad, but I am definitely a bigger fan of just straight chocolate. I mean, when you have good quality dark chocolate, why muddle it up with other ingredients? That's just a personal opinion, of course, and I am no food expert. I'm just a housewife that digs chocolate.

Several comments from this discussion validated my opinion on the dark chocolate-with-sea-salt combo.

And this helpful guide to organic dark chocolate has left me with several different chocolates on my wish list. I am thinking this one might be a little from-me-to-me for my birthday.

What about you? Are you crazy for chocolate? Are you a dark chocolate fan or do you prefer milk chocolate? How dark do you like it? And what's your favorite way to eat it? Straight or in a recipe?

Monday, January 25, 2010

I CHOOSE JOY
Somewhere along the way of giving birth to four little boys, I became an angry person.
Or maybe I always was angry but never had circumstances to bring it out.
At any rate, it is here in my heart and it shows itself in the most unbecoming ways.
It shows in the sharp edge of my tone, when I answer the same question from my two-year old for the tenth time in as many minutes. It shows when I close the door just a little harder than necessary, to make sure the boys know I am not happy about the way they are carrying on. And if you could read my mind, it would be obvious in the fuming thoughts that tumble around in my brain...angry that I am tripping over my husband's shoes, that the kids are bickering, that the laundry is piling up, etc., etc., etc.
It doesn't really matter what it is that has makes me angry so much as why. And the why is because I am not getting what I want. What I want is a house that is always clean, with children that never fight and a husband that always picks up after himself. That probably won't be a reality any time soon, so I have two choices.
1. I can continue to be angry, contaminating the energy of our home and making everyone miserable -or-
2. I can change my perspective.
My husband may or may not start putting his shoes away. In the meantime, I can be thankful that I have a husband who is a hard worker, a loving husband, and a kind father. If he wants to take his shoes off in the dining room, it is a simple thing for me to put them away for him and takes a lot less energy to carry them to the closet when I am heading to the bedroom anyway, than to berate him and feel frustrated that "I have to do everything around here".
Instead of being angry that my two-year old talks non stop, I can be thankful that all my children are healthy and that I am able to be with them all day to answer their questions.

In 2010, I want to adopt the practice of putting off my negative, angry thoughts and replacing them with thankful, happy thoughts. I am going to deliberately and consistently change my thought patterns, through prayer and my husband's encouragement, and doing it again and again and again. I know how powerful our thoughts are to shape our reality. I experience it first hand when running. When I am running, and am tired and ready to quit, my body follows my thoughts...if I think "I am so tired, there is no way I can run another mile" then I guarantee you, I will turn home early. But if I consciously think to myself "I am not tired. I could run all day. This is easy" then almost magically, my footsteps get lighter and I feel a rush of energy. It is the craziest thing!

I am going to start meeting weekly with a woman counselor at our church. I am so excited! I love counseling. It is kind of like scratching an itch. It is uncomfortable but feels so good at the same time. My husband does marriage counseling and I often tell him that I wish I could go for counseling. I asked last night, and she said she had an opening and could start meeting with me!! I am looking forward to the accountability, looking at myself honestly, answering hard questions, and growing and maturing. I may or may not be able to change my circumstances but I can change the way I respond to them.

This year, my word is JOY and I am looking for it everywhere.
JUST A QUIET MONDAYI try to stay home on Mondays. The kids are always tired and out of sorts from a long day at church the day before, and the house needs some attention to bring it back to order. Today went the way that I wish all Mondays did. We had a nice balance of work and play. The sun was shining and we hung laundry out for the first time in months. We picked up toys in the yard...I tiptoed around big muddy patches while the boys, of course, made sure to go straight through the wettest puddles.

I started back in earnest with flylady this morning. Oh my goodness, you wouldn't believe the layers of grime that is on the windowsills, fan blades, and baseboards of my house. GROSS. How have I not noticed?! Too tired, I guess. I am not freaking out though. I started on the current zone, the living room, worked in 15 minute increments of time and can already see a vast improvement. The kids were armed with feather dusters and rags and spray bottles of cleaners and had a big time.

I finally feel like I am living my old life again. I never realize how hard pregnancy and having a newborn is until afterward. It isn't until I am doing all the things again that I wasn't doing while I was pregnant to even realize that I wasn't doing them at all. Does that make any sense? It struck me, as I was hanging clothes on the line this morning, that it has been probably a year since I had done that...but I didn't realize it had been that long, until I was doing it again. It felt really good.

Now it is time to bring the laundry off the line and remake the beds. Tonight, we will have sweet dreams under sheets that smell of sunshine.

Monday, January 18, 2010

EATING FROM THE PANTRY, 2 (pounding roasted chickpeas into flour to make socca)

I spent $85.38 at the grocery store last week, which is more than I normally spend in a week. I mostly stocked up on staples, as it was a good week for sales at our grocery store...most of the money I spent went towards stocking up on toilet paper, olive oil, peppercorns, wheat pasta, etc. as well as fresh vegetables we were running low on. I am trying to become consistent at shopping the sales cycle, so I stocked up on several items that I knew were the lowest I would find them for several months.

I went into our local produce place too, after several weeks of only shopping at the grocery store. I fell into a conversation with the owner and learned that they are perilously close to having to close shop, due to slower and slower sales. I am recommitting to spending at least $20 a week of my food budget at L & D produce...I love their local fruits, vegetables, honey, and yard eggs and want to do my part to support a great local family business. If you live in the same area as me, I hope you will shop at L & D too. We will all be missing out if they have to close and it is well worth the few extra minutes and the marginally higher cost to shop there, in my opinion.

I did well cooking out of the freezer this week and we enjoyed a nice variety of different foods. I will say though, my husband's job is to sell food to restaurants, so we do have a pretty varied stockpile. He is often bringing home samples or foods he bought on sale that can seem pretty random!
A few of the meals we enjoyed this week:

-Ostrich burgers in lettuce wraps with zucchini chips
-venison meatloaf with pureed cauliflower, peas, green beans, and corn on the cob
-socca wraps with lettuce, grilled chicken, greek dressing, and feta cheese
-ale-broth venison stew with homemade pumpernickel bread
-salad with black beans, corn, salsa, and cheddar
-salmon with a balsamic reduction, on a bed of spinach with gorgonzola and pecans (yummy!)
-homemade wheat waffles with agave (we were out of maple syrup)
-fried eggs on ezekiel bread
-green smoothies
-fruit salad (made from frozen mango, peaches, and blueberries)
-chocolate cake with icing
-oatmeal
-almond meringues ("cloud cookies")

This week, I plan to spend significantly less at the store, only buying staples and redeeming my rain checks from last week for almond milk.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

LET THEM EAT CAKEAs I have said many times before, feeding my family well is something I really put a lot of time and energy into. I enjoy the process, start to finish, from meal planning, shopping, cooking, and even washing dishes. For the most part, our family eats a very balanced diet with an emphasis on whole foods and a minimum of processed items. I generally follow the advice of popular food author Michael Pollan: "don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food".
Today, I detoured from my normal food preferences, and really hit my stride, at least in my children's opinion. In one dish, I made their every gastronomic dream come true.

Pillsbury chocolate cake mix + Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting + multi-colored sprinkles = children's culinary delight.

I made it last night after they were asleep. I had purchased the cake mix and frosting for pennies (on sale and with coupons), with the intention of giving them to the food bank. Except that my two year old got into them when I wasn't looking and made them unfit for donation.

Their eyes lit up when they saw the cake sitting on the counter this morning. They stood by the dessert table at our church's fellowship meal, pointing out the cake and excitedly telling anyone that would listen that THEIR mom brought that cake.

It's funny, often when I am cooking, I think to myself that when the boys are grown and out of the house, they will look back fondly on the healthy, good foods I made for them. And maybe that will be the case, I don't know. Right now though, a boxed cake and canned icing makes me the coolest mom around.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

RESTIt's raining outside, which makes it feel even more cozy indoors. An easy dinner is cooking in the oven, an ale-brothed venison stew that makes the house smell all yeasty and delicious. Paired with the pumpernickel bread that is rising on the stove top, it should be a warm and simple winter supper. Hearty, one dish meals are my favorite way to eat...and cook. Everyone is home this afternoon, engaged in our own activities but enjoying the proximity of each other's company.I bake and cook and putter in the kitchen, reading the paper, nibbling on dark chocolate and thinking about what I am reading in The Supper of the Lamb and Grace Based Parenting. I fold a little laundry. Nurse the baby and kiss his fat baby cheeks (oh, those cheeks!!). Some play video games or work puzzles or read the paper. Others nap. After a busy week, the slow, unhurried week-end feels like a long exhale.

Today, home feels like a sanctuary rather than a pit stop, just the way it should.

I hope your week-end is restful and restorative too.